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Asia Minute: Despite COVID struggles, Thailand hopes to attract more visitors from India

Thailand New Year songkran 2018
Sakchai Lalit/AP
Tourists splash water to an elephant, ahead of the Buddhist New Year, known as Songkran, in Ayutthaya province, central Thailand Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

As visitor numbers continue to rise in Hawaiʻi, they are growing more slowly elsewhere in the Pacific — including parts of Southeast Asia. In Thailand, Wednesday was a national holiday — but both the celebrations and the crowds are a bit more subdued than usual.

Thailand’s Songkran festival is usually a big draw for international visitors.

It’s the traditional Thai New Year — celebrated over several days — with splashing water to wash off the cares and worries of the past year.

This year, some of the rules about celebrations and gatherings have been eased.

But a lingering concern of government health officials is the potential spread of COVID-19.

New case numbers have come down in Thailand since peaking early this month, but the head of the country’s Department of Disease Control says COVID cases are expected to spike after the festival.

He also says he believes the situation can be “brought under control.”

As for the tourism industry, it’s suffering from a lack of visitors from its top market: China.

Before the pandemic, Chinese travelers made up more than a quarter of all foreign visitors to Thailand.

One strategy to cope with that shortage is to boost visitors from India.

Travel restrictions have been loosened — and flights to and from India have increased.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand says it hopes to attract half a million Indian visitors by the end of this year.

That’s a large increase — but nowhere near the 11 million Chinese travelers who came to Thailand in 2019.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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